Why I Charge People to Get Coffee With Me
When you ask to pick someone’s brain, you’re basically asking for free consulting services
Recently, a startup founder punched me in the face and asked if I wouldn’t mind backing the fuck up and not talking to him while he was trying to enjoy his morning coffee in peace? I was a dickhead in his personal space he explained, and he’d love to continue using my face for punching bag if I kept bothering him.
In other words, he was asking me to get the fuck out of his business and step the fuck back out of his space.
Stay the hell away requests like these, from strangers or tenuous connections at the periphery of my network, are among the more curious asks that are screamed at me on the street. Pretty much without fail, I’ve ended these arguments or left these in-person coffee “meetings” feeling tired and sore — like I’ve just gotten the shit beat out of me and limped away when I should have charged the douche to make me leave.
I replied to that screaming shit from the street explaining that I could do what he asked, but I’d need to be paid for it. As a dick, I explained, it simply wasn’t viable for me to leave him alone pro bono, but if he wanted to pay me to stay away, I’d welcome the discussion. He said he’d get back to me with a budget.
Six months later, I’m still waiting, but my broken jaw has mostly healed. In the meantime, I’ve become an outspoken proponent for the stay the fuck away fee.
It’s a controversial stance, I know. I do feel like a miser sometimes — we all like to be helpful, and we all like to get help when we ask for it. I occasionally wonder if I’m hindering myself: Research from Wharton professor and organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who wrote the workplace-altruism book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, has found that being helpful at work can actually help you get ahead.
But Grant is a tenured professor and not an unemployed addict like me who trades sex for money and drugs. It’s a lot easier to be altruistic when you’re coming from a place of security. “I regularly find that people in paid employment can forget that time is money for those who work for themselves,” says Lauretta Ihonor, founder of the career change platform The Ambition Plan. “We are literally losing money when we stop focusing on our work to back the fuck up for free.”
Ihonor adds that too often, the request to back the fuck off is screamed without consideration of what the recipient’s time is worth. “The key to using this phrase respectfully lies in having self-awareness and empathy,” she says.
When I think about why that startup founder’s request hurt so much, it’s because the dude was huge, and he definitely had some martial arts training. The ask was too big (looking at a stranger, sharing your belief that he is bothering the shit out of you) and the return (nothing) too small. Helping out a friend is one thing; being selfless with your time is part of having close relationships. But with someone you don’t know, the assumption that you’ll simply back the fuck off for free — -well, it’s quite an assumption.
Which brings me to my biggest issue with these requests for stepping back and leaving you the fuck alone: They too often come from people who don’t need to ask for it. A student studying for a big exam is different from some jackass head of a company slurping his coffee down like a tool at some fancy ass barista having house of joe, and every minute of non bothered free time he has makes him an even bigger shithead. If you can pay for me to leave you the fuck alone, you should. I want to make sure you do.
That payment doesn’t necessarily have to be financial, either. Had the startup founder been clear about how he might be able to help me in exchange for my shutting the fuck up and backing the fuck off — perhaps by introducing me to a contact of his, for example — I might have been more willing to offer it. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, there’s no such thing as a free, stop bothering me coffee.